By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
October 4, 2020
Video of entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/340557987200215/
Scripture: Luke 23:32-38
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Well, friends. It’s a pretty good bet, when I decide to change the scripture I had picked for the week, that I have been listening to the Holy Spirit. She does not often respect my plans. It is fairly normal that as I go through my week, the Spirit directs me away from what I was thinking about in my head to pay attention to the world around me. In the world around me, it’s been a volatile and challenging week in our collective political life, and it has also been a hard week in the life of our church family.
So I changed my scripture and my message. I had planned to come out swinging in the name of peace and justice this week. I had planned to tell all y’all: “Don’t be like the Roman Empire who crucified Jesus. Don’t become like the people who used their evil and oppressive and violent power to condemn and crucify hims. In short, Jesus said LOVE your enemies. Don’t TURN INTO your enemies.” But I’m not going to preach on that today. Don’t get me wrong. I still think that’s an important message. Maybe we will revisit it again later this month.
But as I said, I listen to the Spirit when I prepare to preach. I listen carefully for what God is calling me to say to you, my very particular people, in this very particular moment in time. As committed as I was to come out swinging for justice…this week in politics, this week as your pastor, made me remember again the primary importance of love. It made me remember the power of love. It made me remember that, above all else, love is the Way of Jesus.
Love is the power of God. It is incredibly strong. The Apostle Paul writes about love as this kind of unbreakable power. Love is what connects us to God now and into eternity. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). I preached about that text at Robert Fleming’s funeral this week. I pointed out that it is not our will or strength of even our faith that keeps us connected to God. It is love. Love binds us to God and to one another. So I would like to humbly appeal to the love of God that is in all of us as we consider how we are going to engage in this election season.
I don’t have to tell you that it has gotten ugly and hateful out there. If you are on social media, I am sure you have seen a fair – okay, it’s probably large – amount of criticism of President Trump and former Vice President Biden that does not reflect Christian love. Whether it’s some on the left responding with glee to Trump’s COVID diagnosis or some on the right launching ageist attacks on Biden, suggesting he has dementia, there is no love in petty, mean, personal attacks on candidates.
Now, I will be the first to admit that this is a challenge. I, too, when I see the “other” candidate do something I disagree with…I, too, am tempted to respond with disdain. It is a very human response, and as much as we try to deny it, we are sinful humans who sometimes struggle to choose Jesus’ way of love.
But as Christians, we can’t just shrug our shoulders about that: it’s our job to try to do better. Jesus taught us this countercultural, revolutionary way of creating a world of peace and justice. He did not take on the qualities of the Roman Empire that brought so-called “peace” by threatening violence. Jesus’ revolution happened, is happening, and will happen through love and forgiveness.
Jesus’ way is much more countercultural than even John Wesley’s rules for voting I shared with the children. In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. This is a radically different way than what we usually see in politics.
As Christians, we need to choose this radically different way. We cannot take on the evil ways of the world in order to advance our own candidates and preferences. We will not see the coming kingdom of love and justice if we use hate and division as a tool. It is simply not the way of Jesus.
Here’s the other reason we cannot submit to hating those who vote differently than we do. It’s because of this church community. Friends, we have people in this church who are going to vote for Joe Biden. We have people in this church who are going to vote for Donald Trump. And we still have to find a way to love one another because that’s what Christians do.
As I mentioned earlier, I presided at the funeral of Robert Fleming this week, a beloved member of this church. I know there are people who are going to vote for Joe Biden who loved Bob. I know there are people who are going to vote for Donald Trump who loved Bob.
I also know many of you have seen that Beverly Weber, beloved member of this church and very beloved mom of Jeff Weber died unexpectedly on Friday. Our hearts are broken with this loss. I know there are people who will vote for Joe Biden whose hearts are broken. There are people who will vote for Donald Trump whose hearts are broken. I also know in this moment of grief for Jeff and for everyone who loved Bev, we can actually follow Jesus. We can actually seek to love one another because we are aware that God’s love overcomes every political difference we might have.
To be totally honest, my friends…what the Holy Spirit told me this week is that life is too hard for us to make enemies of one another. We know, when the chips are down, that we will be there for each other, no matter who we vote for. That’s not to say we shouldn’t freely and conscientiously vote for the candidate that we sincerely believe will help bring about God’s reign of love and justice. We should. But we can be a part of bringing that reign of love and justice right now by loving and forgiving and supporting those who the world would tell us we must call enemies.
We refuse. We refuse to lash out at our family, our church family, at strangers, even at our enemies. Because we are called to love all of these. If Jesus could endure crucifixion without speaking ill of his enemies, surely we can vote our conscience and values without attacking, degrading, and demeaning one another.
We can show one another love, and we can still be people of peace and justice. We can, and we must. At this divided and volatile moment in history, we must be the bearers of Jesus’ radical love and mercy for the good of our church family, for the good of our country, and for the good of the world.
May it be so.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1) When you encounter someone who disagrees with you about something important, like who to vote for, how do you respond to them? How easy or hard is it for you to accept your differences?
2) Is there someone in your life that you have trouble getting along with because of political differences? Have you managed to stay in relationship despite your differences? How do you do that? (If not, do you think it’s important to mend the relationship? How might you do that?)
3) Name one person who you know thinks differently than you politically but has been there for you when you really needed love and support. What did that person do to support you?
4) How can you practice love and mercy and forgiveness in the month from now until the election?